League Two Preview: Cambridge upwardly mobile

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Shaun Derry

Here are The Football Lab’s predictions for Monday’s games in League Two. Cambridge look to continue their good form against Barnet, who have the worst away form in England. Dagenham & Redbridge wait for the seemingly inevitable appointment of John Still when they travel to Stevenage, who have been hindered by injuries. Oxford hope to build on their impressive 3-0 win over Exeter on Boxing Day when they go to Huish Park, where Yeovil are desperate for a first league victory under Darren Way.

Cambridge v Barnet

Barnet lost 1-0 at home to Newport in the FA Cup at the beginning of December, and were lucky to only concede once in that game, but the Bees managed to avenge the Exiles in their last meeting. Barnet won 2-0 thanks to a second half brace from John Akinde, a striker finding form. Martin Allen had left Akinde out of the starting eleven for the 3-1 defeat to Mansfield in late November. That decision may have fired up the powerful forward, who came off the bench to score that day and netted three goals in the following four games.

Akinde thrives on home soil and so do Barnet, who have picked up 23 of their 28 points this term at the Hive. Given the bizarre, topsy-turvey nature of League Two, it seems unsurprising that their one and only away win came at second placed Oxford who, incidentally, have only lost once at home.

Cambridge United are enjoying something of a honeymoon period under Shaun Derry. They have gone from languishing in the lower reaches of League Two to looking upwardly-mobile, having climbed into the top half.

The Yellow and Black Army were superb in the second half of their 3-0 win at Dagenham & Redbridge, with half-time substitute Robbie Simpson making a key difference to the dynamics of the game. Simpson has not had too much match practice over the last two months but he does have some quality at this level and Derry was keen to praise his attitude while not playing. The new manager appears to have lifted the club and the fact that 1,000 fans travelled to Victoria Road on Boxing Day shows the impression he has made on the fans.

Stevenage v Dag & Red

Dagenham & Redbridge have sacked manager Wayne Burnett recently and the rumours are John Still will take his place. Still might be more suited to the challenges at Victoria Road, than he was able to get the best out of a team of more established, egotistical players at Luton. He is a manager that can turn a bunch of willing workhorses into a cohesive side bigger than the sum of its parts, but can’t quite add the finishing touches to an extravagantly-assembled side readymade for promotion. Luckily for him, there is no money at Dagenham & Redbridge.

Or at least, there wasn’t until the FA Cup draw handed the club a money-spinning visit to Everton. Ironically, it might have been the third round draw that encouraged the board to pay the compensation fee to sack Burnett, who had signed a two year deal in April. There is a strong case to say that there is a greater chance the manager would have stayed, had the Daggers lost to Whitehawk in the Second Round.

Stevenage put in arguably their worst performance in a few months in their 2-1 defeat at Crawley, a bad day compounded by former Boro man Roarie Deacon scoring the injury time winner. Teddy Sheringham’s cause was hindered just before kick-off when left-back Jerome Okimo got injured in the warm-up and Chris Whelpdale had to go off after less than a quarter of the game.

The injury to Whelpdale will be of particular disappointment to Stevenage fans, because he was battling injury problems for long spells of last season and still managed to score nine goals. The midfielder, who netted a hat-trick against Morecambe a month ago, has scored some important goals for Boro and always shows great athleticism to break into the box. The Daggers might pick up a point here.

Yeovil v Oxford

Yeovil played Oxford a few weeks ago in the JPT and the Glovers were a touch unlucky to lose at the Kassam. Had you offered caretaker manager three points on Monday at the expense of progress that day, however, he would have taken the offer very gladly.

Way’s troops lost 1-0 at Plymouth last time out, in a game in which they failed to register a single shot on target. The Glovers have hit the target either once or never on 10 occasions this season and one must question the quality of their shooting. Ryan Bird has done ok to score seven goals given the lack of creativity, but otherwise none of Yeovil’s strikers are proven at this level and therein lies the problem.

Yeovil have quite a tall, physical side and their best chance of beating Oxford is via set pieces, because the U’s struggled against the power and strength of Wycombe Wanderers. They conceded two goals from dead ball situations in a 2-1 defeat at Adams’ Park and Carlisle came close to scoring against them that way the week before.

Is it too much to ask therefore, for Yeovil to win purely on strong defending and a well-taken corner? Probably, because Oxford have plenty of quality in their ranks and deservedly sit second. The U’s beat Exeter 3-0 on Boxing Day and midfielder John Lundstram, who had been rejected by Everton and struggled on loan at other clubs including Yeovil, showed his capabilities with a superb long range strike. That is the kind of quality Oxford have, and it should be enough for them at Huish Park.